Berlin has made an imprint on my mind since I visited it back in the summer of 2009 as a giddy, college graduate on a whirlwind Euro Trip with one of my closest childhood friends. There was something about the cities’ vibrant eclectic energy and its constant ability to reinvent itself despite its recent hardships that made my former 23-year-old self promise I would one day return.
Three years later here I am. The circumstances are different: my travel partner is my lovely boyfriend, and a continuous snowfall accompanies us everywhere we go, but I’m elated to be back.
Our home for the next few nights is the fantastic PLUS Berlin Hostel, which upon arrival seems more like a hotel instead with its modern decor, indoor swimming pool, and endless maze of rooms (in its former life it use to be a boarding school). It also offers free yoga classes in the winter!
The first night as snowflakes sting our faces, we make our way to nearby Kreuzberg, which has a large Turkish population. We are drawn to a brightly lit Turkish-owned Italian eatery, where we silently devour creamy salmon pizza and angel hair pasta smothered in olive oil and garlic.
Back at our hostel, we wander around the outside grounds where we find a few pet rabbits braving the cold in their little fenced-in enclosure. We are definitely a bit envious of their built-in fur coats.
We eat cream cheese and bagels (mine with lox, his without) at a German counterpart of Dunkin’ Donuts, in the Alexanderplatz station, before venturing out each day.
We get lost on our way to the DDR Museum, as the snow silently consumes every surface around us. We wander aimlessly under the shadow of massive, regal buildings that hold museums, and a beautifully frosted church that towers above us with its rich, dark details.
Finally, inside the museum we step into an interactive time capsule that reveals fascinating tidbits from the Cold War. We climb into the driver’s seat of a Trabi (GDR compact car) and get interrogated by the Stasi police.
Against the backdrop of the legendary Brandenburg Tor, bundled individuals meditate in a large circle in the frosty afternoon, amid the chatter of tourist and rowdy school groups. We try to make our way to the Parliament nearby (my only must-see this trip) but it’s closed due to the danger of excessive snow on the roof. A hearty bowl of sausage and veggie soup at a nearby cafe dulls the disappointment.
We visit the vast, outdoor Holocaust Memorial; disappearing into the somber, granite columns as they grow larger as we make our way to the center. The architect Peter Eisenman, who designed this memorial said it is “designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” There is definitely something unmistakably eerie and confining about this stone formation and it only felt magnified in the frigid, winter chill.
For our meals we eat mostly at inexpensive take-away counters or at our hostel which has a lovely restaurant and bar. But one of our more memorable meals was at Susuru, a Japanese noodle bar that had delicious udon.
On the last night, we made our way over to Checkpoint Charlie, an icon of the Cold War that divided the city into two. The moment I saw the sign declaring a now demolished border, it felt like yesterday that I was here for the first time, standing in awe of such tangible evidence of history. Four years later that sense of wonder has not diminished at all.